ISWAP Child Soldiers U-turn

The ISIS and Al-Qaida linked jihadists, adopted a policy to recruit and deploy vulnerable children as frontline soldiers, spies and suicide bombers. Boko Haram JAS faction have been notorious for grooming very young boys and girls, some as young as 7 years old to act as spies and suicide bombers. An operational policy that ISIS core previously condemned as un-Islamic. 

As of May 2020, over 500 child soldiers have been recruited, trained and graduated at a location in the Lake Chad Axis known only as Tudun Kurna. ISWAP Chief Imam Goni Maina is said to have graduated the new recruits. The jihadists child soldiers were given basic military style combat operation skills in preparation for real live offensives.

While briefing the militants, The Chief Imam is said to have further radicalised the young jihadist recruits to show absolute loyalty and discipline to their unit commanders and prepare to revenge on the recent onslaught by the regional MNJTF. About 200 of the young jihadist graduates were ‘rewarded’ to take part in a specialised training on how to assemble Improvised Explosive Device (IED's) and be part of a suicide mission squad. 

Current Threat of Child Soldiers Exposed 

Sources with knowledge of the jihadists operations have confirmed that about 400 out of the 500 newly graduated child soldiers have been given arms and uniforms and recently distributed to various Boko Haram ISWAP camps along Marte LGA. Some of these camps include Kirta Woulgo; Sigir; Bulama Gafe; Kusuma ;Yerwa Kura; Arina Chili;Kwalaram; Bukar Mairam ;Tudun Woulgo; Jiblaram.

The deployment of child soldiers to various camps along Marte LGA is significant for Boko Haram and ISWAP for one key reason. The jihadists so called “3 star General” Abu Imrana (a native of Marte LGA) was killed by the Nigerian Army after a fierce battle in Marte LGA. Thus, indicating revenge as the primary motive in memory of the slain Jihadist Commander.

Extreme vigilance and alertness is required along villages in Marte LGA by all civil and military stakeholders. ISWAP has abandoned its no child soldier policy to recruiting, brainwashing, training and deploying innocent looking children either as spies, frontline soldiers or suicide bombers to target hard military and soft civilian positions in Northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad axis states.


Change of Tactics

Boko Haram and ISWAP have been forced to adapt three key battlefield tactics after the Nigerian Army introduced the super-camps fortifications and engaged jihadist strongholds under a coordinated ground troops and Air Force aerial offensives. These include ambushing troops, attack on vulnerable civilian targets and communities and cattle rustling which will be discussed subsequently.


Boko Haram ISWAP Jihadist units rely heavily on guerrilla style ambush attacks on small military and civilian convoys. They mostly target security and military convoys deployed for the protection of civilians and INGOs delivering relief materials to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) across the region. The aftermath of these (mostly early morning and late night) surprise attacks are used by Boko Haram/ISWAP as propaganda to national and international sponsors; kidnap for ransom; to capture INGO staff and security personnel for ISIS style execution; steal essential food and medical supply; steal small arms and ammunitions. Armed organised criminal groups usurping jihadist style of operation have taken advantage of the insurgency situation to launch copy-cat raids in the name of Boko Haram ISWAP along the 160km Maiduguri – Damboa road and Maiduguri-Damaturu Road.

Attack Civilian Communities

ISWAP has drifted from its initial attempts to win local ‘Hearts and minds’ of the hapless civilian population by promising not to attack innocent communities. Recent ambush and attacks on innocent communities in Goni Usmanti; Goni Sherrifti; Minamari village; Mariram village-Felo ward along Gubio LGA; Monguno town along Monguno Marte Road and other communities in the North East indicates that Boko Haram and ISWAP no longer enjoy support from the local population. They accuse these communities for spying and providing information on their planned activities to state and local military and security services. The distribution of leaflets in Monguno Road cautioning against any civilian support to the military and security services demonstrates that the jihadists are losing influence and resorting to more coercive tactics to win back support by any means.

Cattle Rustling

Cattle rustling from local farmers especially from communities that are known to be averse to Boko Haram and ISWAP activities is another recent tactic of survival. Local communities are attacked and their cattle is rustled; cattle owners are massacred and the loot is sold in local and international markets while some is reserved as meat to feed jihadists fighters and their families. In a recent attack in villages in Gubio LGA, Boko Haram ISWAP fighters are reported to have rustled more than 1000 cattle. Local vigilantes and cattle owners who attempted to mount a fierce resistance to protect their cattle were massacred before troops from the Nigerian Army and Air-Force were deployed to the locations. Besides Fish, cattle rustling from local farmers has become a regular source of income for Boko Haram and ISWAP. It is equally a coercive tactic used to force local farmers to support jihadist activities or lose their only source of livelihood.


This analytic report recommends a pro-active state and regional intelligence, security and military engagement; absolute local vigilance and a sustained regional collaborative effort as part of a joint COIN strategy.

The bitter splits and power struggle that divided JAS Boko Haram ISWAP camps has been plastered temporarily. But like the reunion after the 2012 Ansaru-Boko Haram fallout, the jihadist coalition will not last. Ongoing battlefield regional COIN efforts need to be comprehensively coordinated and sustained through operations ‘LAFIYA DOLE’; ‘Boma Wrath’ and the MNJTF ‘Operation Yancin Tafkir’. Boko Haram ISWAP jihadist factions will continue to use guerrilla tactics and network with organised criminal networks to survive in the vast and complex terrain of Northern Nigeria and the axis of Lake Chad.

In horizontal warfare, all hands must be proactively unified towards a common positive goal. The local communities; the national police Force, the Intelligence community; the international community; INGOs; the security and armed forces of the MNJTF countries MUST engage beyond inter-agency and regional rivalry and coordinate a bottom-top strategic civil-military approach. One that will effectively put an end to jihadist violent activities in the region. For now, if you “See something – Say Something”!!


About The Author

David Otto is a Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert. He is a Certified Anti Terrorism Specialist (CAS), a Certified Master Anti Terrorism Specialist (CMAS) and a programme trainer with the Anti Terrorism Accreditation Board (ATAB). Twitter @ottotgs



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